This Is Us Season 2 Finale: Did We Really Need This New Cliffhanger?

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This post contains spoilers for the This Is Us Season 2 finale.

Two emotional toasts and several nail-biting moments later, This Is Us fans can finally start throwing some rice in the air; Kate and Toby are officially married. Tuesday’s emotional season finale followed both halves of the happy couple as they battled with various obstacles—grief in Kate’s case, meddling parents in Toby’s—to make their way down the aisle. The good news is, they made it. The bad news? It looks like the Pearson family’s future is headed into some dark places. Specifically: Future Beth seems to be in danger, and the issue of what, exactly, will happen to her might replace “how did Jack die?” as the central question driving the series.

Fans have wondered for a while now if Beth might be marked for death, via Crock-Pot or other means. During the drama’s big Super Bowl episode, some sharp-eyed viewers noted that Future Randall was not wearing a wedding ring during a flash-forward that showed Tess at work as a social worker—and that Beth was nowhere to be found in that scene. Could it be that Beth will someday perish of the same cancer that took her father?

The answer is still hazy—but in Tuesday’s finale, it became clear that while Beth might not be dead in the future, she’s almost certainly not well. Another flash-forward found Future Randall telling Future Tess that it was time to go see “her,” and Tess replying that she didn’t feel ready. The camera then cut back to the present, panning upward from a still-young Tess to Beth. Perhaps it was misdirection, and the flash-forward wasn’t about Beth at all; perhaps Beth really will die of cancer; perhaps in the future, she’s actually suffering from something more complicated, like Alzheimer’s. Whatever it is, it seems pretty safe to bet that Season 3 will keep poking at this question and building suspense—but it’s worth asking whether This Is Us really needs to indulge in another prolonged game of “what really happened to that beloved character?”

As Vulture’s Jen Chaney pointed out last fall, This Is Us is, in many ways, a new spin on the old-fashioned mystery-box show—a latter-day version of Lost and its ilk, which center on enigmatic questions. In the case of This Is Us, for most of its two seasons, that question has been “what on earth killed Jack?” And now, just a month after fans finally got the full lowdown on Jack’s death, the series has shoved someone else into the mystery box.

The impulse is understandable; big questions, as the drama’s writers have learned, can beget big ratings. Plus, the puzzle element helps give what could be a syrupy soap a bit of edge and intrigue. But depending on this maneuver also comes with a cost: hinging on endless cliffhangers and mini-mysteries can undercut the heart of the series, which can and should ultimately be what keeps viewers coming back.

The mystery of Jack’s death, for instance, started out fascinating, but wound up dragging on for far too long. Eventually, the show’s hints became distracting rather than tantalizing—and for all the fanfare surrounding the Pearson family house fire, what did it actually reveal about Jack’s family that couldn’t have been conveyed in a more efficient way? Was learning that a faulty Crock-Pot—I’m sorry, slow cooker—killed Jack really that revelatory? Did waiting months to find out that Jack went into a burning house to save Kate’s dog really make that fact any more meaningful than if we had simply learned it sometime in Season 1, as Kate gazed forlornly at his urn?

Dramas are certainly not obligated, or even well advised, to burn through major plot points—but there’s a difference between rushing and simply letting things play out at an organic pace. Instead, when This Is Us centers itself on mysteries, it feels overly engineered—and it’s difficult to ignore those machinations in order to focus on the show’s gooey center.

There’s plenty of emotional resonance and suspense in This Is Us. The most tense moment of this finale episode came when Toby made the case to his doubtful parents that Kate truly was the one for him—displaying a confidence that only made the moment that followed, when Kate seemed to be faltering, even more painful to watch. By the time both parties were clearly on board to proceed with the wedding, the heartbreaking possibility of their nuptials falling apart made it all the more meaningful. It’s those kinds of moments that make This Is Us worth watching—and it’s those story beats I wish this series trusted to carry the show. Though the show made its name partially on the Modern Family–esque twist at the end of its pilot episode, at this point, we don’t need a vague flash-forward to a catatonic Toby to know that his and Kate’s happiness is fragile. And we don’t need Beth to be sick or dead to know that her family would be lost without her. This series has done a beautiful job of laying that foundation already—and unlike Randall’s foray into construction, this work is reliable. It’s time This Is Us let it speak for itself.

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